Red Air Force and Navy 1939

Russian Air Force

Polikarpov I-16 Rata

The most important fighter of the Red Air Force at this time was the Polikarpov I-16 Rata. Though this Type 24 is in Russian summer camouflage it is wearing winter landing gear. The skis retracted flush under the fuselage.

Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s the Soviet Government made enormous efforts to build up a large modern air force, but the difficulties in finding suitable designs and the machines and materials to mass produce aircraft were enormous.
To overcome the lack of pilots and mechanics the government poured money into the voluntary organization Osoaviakhim (Society for the Support of Defence, Aviation and Chemical Defence). Soon after its formation in 1927 it had a membership of three million which had grown to 13 million by 1936. Aero clubs were set up to provide pilots, mechanics and parachutists, and until 1940 all Red Air Force volunteers came from this source. Shortages of instructors, training aids and aircraft meant that the standard attained was very low, however, and it was finally decided to select Air Force recruits from the annual military draft.

Between 1935 and 1937, 3,576 aircraft, including a large proportion of four-engined bombers, were produced, but as the numbers increased so effectiveness decreased because the technical standard of the aircraft industry was falling behind developments in more advanced industrial nations.

The Red Air Force had its first practical experience in the Spanish Civil War and this resulted in certain organizational and operational changes, but it was the traumatic experience of the Winter War against Finland (in which some 1,000 Soviet aircraft were lost) that really showed up the alarming shortcomings in training, tactics and equipment. Red Air Force commanders were not ignorant of these defects but the purges of 1937-1938, which removed many senior commanders, meant that the remedies undertaken were not necessarily the most effective.

The Air Force of the Red Army (VVS-RKKA) was divided into two basic components. The first was the Air Force of the Red Army which consisted of fighter and ground attack regiments under the direct control of a Military District (later Front). The second component was the Long-Range Bomber Force which was at the disposal of the State Commissariat of Defence for tactical deployment on any front when necessary.

In April 1939 a thorough re-organization within the Air Force took place. The largest formation was now the air division, which comprised between four and six air regiments (formerly brigades). Each regiment consisted of about 60 aircraft with additional reserve planes (usually about 40 aircraft).

There were three types of Air Regiment:
bomber regiments with four squadrons of 12 aircraft each;
fighter regiments with four squadrons of 15 aircraft each;
ground attack regiments with four squadrons of 15 aircraft each.
The squadron was divided into wings of three aircraft.

The Air Force attached to a Military District or Front included a number of fighter and bomber regiments, while mixed regiments with both bomber and fighter components were attached to army corps, which also retained their own reconnaissance squadrons.


Important aircraft types in 1939
aircraft number of planes
Beriev MBR-2 flying boat c. 1,500 built 1933-42
Illyushin II-4 bomber 1,528 built 1937-39
Polikarpov I-15 fighter c. 1,000+
Polikarpov I-16 fighter c. 5,000
Tupolev SB-2 bomber c. 6,000 built 1936-1941
Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber 800 built 1931-1939

Russian Navy

Cadets of Russian Naval School

Cadets of the Russian Naval School parade in Red Square.

As a land power the Soviet Union did not look upon the Red Navy’s role as a strategic one. Its main tasks, therefore, were the patrolling of territorial waters, the protection of shore installations, the support of land forces, and the provision of vessels and personnel for amphibious operations.
The strength of the whole Red Navy in 1939 was estimated at 40,000 men of whom 22,000 were serving at sea.

The fleet involved in the war against Finland was the Baltic Fleet. At the beginning of the war the fleet was operationally subordinated to the Leningrad Military District, and comprised the following:

2 battleships
2 cruisers
21 destroyers and torpedo boats
52 submarines
41 motor torpedo boats
13 minelayers, minesweepers and auxiliaries
2 escort and patrol boats.
Added to this were the small craft of the Lake Ladoga Flotilla.


Total Soviet Forces against Finland:
600,000 men, 32 divisions, 1,200 tanks
696 planes divided between the armies and 300 more in Estonia
2 battleships, 1 cruiser, 9 destroyers, 16 small warships, 11 submarines deployed by the Baltic and Arctic Fleets

Call of War
Related Reports:
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply